Pedaling Hard Enough? Three Ways to Measure Intensity

In general, the harder you pedal, the more impactful the workout. The table below, developed by Dr. Edward Coyle of the University of Texas at Austin, correlates cycling speed to calories burned. A heavier rider would burn more calories, a smaller rider would burn fewer. Generally, the calories burned will be somewhat lower indoors versus outdoors.



It’s unrealistic to go super-fast all of the time.  Most endurance athletes follow the 80/20 rule.  Developed by Matt Fitzgerald, he preaches 80 percent of training should be done at low intensity and the other 20 percent at high intensity.    Sounds good, but how do you know the difference when pedaling on a bike?


Here are three ways to gauge your effort while riding your Echelon bike:

Exercise Zones

In our prior post, we discussed heart rate characteristics of which cyclists should be aware.  [Check out Echelon’s heart rate monitor].  Max heart rate and resting heart rate act as bookends for controlled effort.  Exercise zones, as shown below, are one way to gauge effort.  Unlike other measures, exercise zones also factor in age.  More fit athletes may need to handicap their zones.

Source: Wikipedia

You will need to know your max heart rate to use exercise zones.  We shared this information in last week’s post.


To find your max heart rate, jump on the bike and do a ten-minute warm-up.  Next, every 30 seconds, increase by 15 watts (or 1 mph of speed).  Your max heart rate is the last 30 seconds of work before your watts decrease.

Rate of Perceived Exertion

Not a fan of heart rate? then Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is for you.  Swedish scientist Robert Borg created a scale to assist athletes in judging intensity.  Borg’s scale ranges from 1 -20 (often simplified 1 to 10) and describes how hard an effort should feel.



RPE demands honesty.  The great UCLA coach John Wooden remarked, “Never confuse activity with achievement.”  When riding your Echelon bike, be willing to achieve.  Rate of Perceived Exertion helps with that.

Heart Rate Zones

Heart rate zones demarcate effort by bookending effort levels.  Based on your maximum heart rate, the zones vary from one (easy) to zone five (maximum effort — greater than 100 percent effort).  It’s important to train in multiple zones.  The range of zones may vary (from one to six, or sometimes seven).


Avoid the dreaded zone three syndrome where you are working hard but not hard enough to force a physical change in your body.  There are times when you should need recovery after a really hard effort and times where you don’t.  Every hard effort should not be the same effort.


Use your maximum and resting heart rate to setup your heart rate training zones.



Knowing your heart rate zones, allow you to ride according to your ability level.  Next time you’re on the Echelon bike, check out one of Randall’s classes.  When you hear him call out a zone, you’ll be able to adjust appropriately.

4 Things to know about Heart-rate


Source: Telly Updates

A study published by the Journal of Preventive Cardiology revealed cyclists who pedaled with more intensity lived 1.7 to 2.4 years longer than those who pedaled with average intensity. Your life may depend on just how hard you’re pedaling!

The ability to sustain long efforts is often a result of intelligent pacing and managing your blood lactate level. As acidity builds up in your blood, you lose the ability to provide enough oxygen to your muscles (your blood lactate threshold). Soon, your body will demand recovery.

Understanding the desired heart rate to pedal four minutes versus 40 seconds is key to moving up the Echelon leaderboard. Connect your Echelon heart rate monitor before the ride and manage your efforts wisely.

Here are four things to know about your heart rate:

Maximum Heart Rate — Forget the formulas! The days of finding your max heart rate by subtracting 220 from your age is passé, at best. Knowing the maximum number of beats per minute your body will allow is important to gauge the intensity of your workout. Exceeding your Max HR isn’t the end of the world, it simply foreshadows an extended recovery period.

To find your max heart rate, jump on the bike and do a ten-minute warm-up. Next, every 30 seconds, increase your output by 15 watts (or 1 mph of speed). Your max heart rate is the last 30 seconds of work before your watts decrease. Take note of this number, and use it to create your heart rate training zones.

Further Reading: 5 Max Heart Rate Training Myths—Busted

Resting Heart Rate (RHR) — Your number of heartbeats while at rest is an indicator of the efficiency of your heart muscle. When the body fights off viruses, it doesn’t always come with visible warnings. An increase in RHR is often a sign of such activity. More positively, RHR also relates to fitness level, though no two numbers are the same. On average, adults have a RHR between 60 and 80. Adults with an active lifestyle trend between 40-60. Many fitness trackers calculate RHR or measure it manually.

Further Reading: Reasons Your Heart is Racing


Source: Derby Crossfit

Heart Rate Recovery— Heart Rate Recovery (HRR), according to the New England Journal of Medicine, is a strong indicator of fitness and mortality. Better conditioned individuals will have a faster decrease in heart rate. Results vary, but a decrease of twelve beats per minute is the minimal number. A number of apps (iOS/Android) can assist in finding your HRR. Or use the pencil and paper approach provided by Scientific American.

Further Reading: What is Recovery Heart Rate?

Heart Rate Variability
By measuring the distance between each heartbeat, as opposed to the average number of beats per minute, heart rate variability (HRV) provides feedback about your body’s ability to take on more duress (i.e. a hard workout). HRV is an emerging metric with multiple fitness devices touting their technology. Be skeptical of mobile apps that provide HRV. They are not all created equal.




Further Reading: What Does Heart Rate Variability Tell Me?